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Queen’s Speech: Reforms to Mental Health Act to curb unnecessary detainment

Queen’s Speech: Reforms to Mental Health Act to curb unnecessary detainment
By Jess Hacker
12 May 2022

Newly announced reforms to the Mental Health Act will address the disparate use of the Act to detain people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Delivered via yesterday’s Queen’s Speech (10 May), the Government set out its key plans for the long-anticipated draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill.

A main benefit of the draft Bill, it said, would see the Government ‘address the existing disparities in the use of the Act for people from ethnic minority backgrounds – especially for detentions and for the use of Community Treatment Orders’.

According to the latest NHS Digital data (October 2021), rates of detention for Black or Black British people were over four times greater than those for white people, with 343.5 detentions per 100,000 population compared to just 74.7.

The reformed draft Bill will see the criteria needed to detain people changed so the Act is only used where ‘strictly necessary’, such as when the person is a ‘genuine risk’ to their safety and when there is ‘clear therapeutic benefit’.

Other key elements of the draft Bill include:

  • Amending the definition of mental disorder so that people can no longer be detained solely because they have a learning disability or because they are autistic
  • Ending the temporary use of prison for those awaiting assessment or treatment
  • Increasing the frequency with which patients can make appeals to Tribunals on their detention
  • Introducing a statutory care and treatment plan for all patients in detention
  • Introducing a new form of supervised community discharge to allow the discharge of restricted patients into the community with the necessary care to manage their risk.

Mental health charity Mind urged the Government to implement the ‘long overdue’ legislative changes.

Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs, said: ‘In most cases, people are detained under the Mental Health Act against their will because they didn’t get the right help when they needed it. Black people are hardest hit, with higher rates of detention and practices that restrict their liberty, including face-down restraint, which can be fatal.

‘We need the new Mental Health Bill to change this and we must see more investment in early intervention to reduce the number of people becoming unwell in the first place. Mental health problems become more difficult to treat if left unchecked, as well as more costly to the NHS.’

And Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: ‘We support proposed changes to the act that will give people a greater say in planning their care and recovery. It will be important for the bill to reflect consideration of the practical implementation of a number of proposals.’

During the speech, the Government also announced:

  • A data reform bill, which would enable more efficient data-sharing between public bodies to improve how services are the delivered
  • Previously announced funding (£8bn from 2022/23-2024/25) would be used to address the NHS Covid backlog.

The Health Foundation criticised the Government’s insufficient action to ensure the country recovers from Covid, in light of the worsening cost-of-living crisis and a huge backlog in NHS care.

The Government is currently seeking evidence from healthcare professionals to inform its new 10-year mental health plan.

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